INDONESIA (BP) –- The lines on the face of 40-year-old Tri Hartoyo* disappear when Suh Hasan* pops her wild cloud of hair into the doorway. Hartoyo enthusiastically throws her thin arms around Hasan and pulls her into the house. They settle onto a couple of overused couches with patches of upholstery missing.
Hasan, an Indonesian Christian, doesn't seem to notice the large smudges of dirt staining the walls -- or what lies behind the curtain dividing this room from the smaller ones rented out to women.
In fact, when Hasan entered the house, she didn't even blink at the red government-issued sign by the front door, identifying Hartoyo's home as a brothel.
Hasan, unfazed by the red-light environment, has been visiting Hartoyo once a week to tell her about Jesus.
To show Christ's love to Hartoyo and other women like her, Hasan and four other Indonesian Christian women devote every Thursday to traversing the prostitution district in a mid-sized city on the island of Java. They enter the brothels during the day, when prostitutes just look like ordinary women in faded makeup. They meet Hartoyo and others like her to talk about heaven -- a message that seldom penetrates the all-consuming world of sexual retail.
"We evangelize. We share. We hope they will believe in Jesus Christ," Hasan says. "If they don't want to, we just encourage them to leave the job."
Despite Hasan's gentle nudges, Hartoyo doesn't show interest in leaving the life anytime soon. Her brothel sits squeezed into a line of run-down houses, seven hours from her family's village. She left her family more than a decade ago to travel with a woman who promised her a housekeeping job in the city. Instead, Hartoyo found herself dropped off at the brothel where Hasan now visits her. Hartoyo had no money and no alternatives, so she traded her body for rupiah, the Indonesian currency, hoping to scrape together enough money to move back home with her aging mother and two sisters. At age 31, she acquired enough to rent the brothel herself and rent the rooms to other prostitutes, becoming a madam.
Deep lines, etched from her dogged struggles for survival, crease her face, making her look at least 10 years older.
"The most important thing right now is that I'm getting a lot of money," Hartoyo says. "I want to go home and live with my family."
Hartoyo and Hasan talk easily back and forth as only friends can. When Hasan began to talk to her friend about Jesus and His love for her, she spoke of His grace and mercy and His ability to forgive any sin Hartoyo could possibly commit. More than a year ago, the prostitute prayed and asked Jesus to take away her guilt and sins.
But Hartoyo continues to run the brothel.
"I realize that [this is not godly]," Hartoyo says, "but the most important thing for me is that I get enough money and go home."
Hasan smiles sadly at the thin, worn prostitute beside her. Hasan, with her frizzy black hair and hearty laugh, has ministered in the red light district for the past 11 years. She says the prostitutes' desire for money often obscures Christ's calling. When Hasan asks them for prayer requests, they frequently ask her to pray that God will send more men to their rooms. She estimates that only 20 to 25 women have accepted Christ and left the business since she began visiting the district.
"The Holy Spirit keeps talking, telling me that I must go, even if it's difficult sometimes," Hasan says.
Hasan battles discouragement, but God has pressed important lessons on her heart -- lessons that help her withstand disappointment when prostitutes like Hartoyo express interest in the Lord without understanding the call to follow Him.
"[God taught me] about love -- love for others and love for the women," Hasan says. "They cannot live without Jesus. We really want to tell them that Jesus is love, and hope that they can have a better life and leave that place."
Hasan celebrates the women who left the dirty houses and the emotional desolation of the red light district. She grieves for Hartoyo, whose longing for home binds her to the brothel's grimy rooms. Hasan's work suspends her between these two emotions, and she asks other Christians to pray with her as the Holy Spirit compels her to continue walking through the red light district, ministering to broken women who refuse to vacate their brothels.
Shiloh Lane is an international correspondent for Baptist Press.
c. 2011 Baptist Press. Used with permission.
Publication date: December 11, 2011